Experienced global traveler Ulla Buchner-Howard, CMP, DFA, adjunct professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management, shared insights with attendees at the MeetingsNet Beyond Borders Summit in New York in July. In addition to running her own firm, ubh International Services, she is also a mediator at SafeHorizon Mediation Center and president of the German American Roundtable. Here are her 14 of her best tips for international travel and meetings:
Carry a copy of your entry visa with you (where applicable). And know that, in some countries, authorities may still say it’s not valid and make you buy another at the airport—if they need some extra cash for holiday spending, that is.
ATMs that are not in banks may not work, and they may run out of money to dispense. Don’t count on the ATMs always working—carry cash.
You may also want to read: 5 Ways to Avoid Cross-Cultural Pitfalls
3. Car Rental
Read the rental car insurance fine print. When Buchner-Howard returned a car she had rented in South Africa, the agent checked under the bumper and declared that gravel popping up from the road had caused damage. Of course, she hadn’t looked under the bumper when she took the car. Thus ensued a major hassle with the company in Cape Town and the U.S. “Read your insurance clause to make sure you know what your insurance actually covers,” said Howard.
Be aware that workers tend to go on strike regularly in some countries, including Italy, France, and Greece. Have a backup plan in case there are strikes at the airport or train station.
Have a Plan B for communication in case Internet and cell phone service suddenly becomes non-existent, especially in more remote areas.
Be aware of the gift-giving customs in your host country. In some Asian countries, a recipient is obligated to provide a better gift—there can be constant one-upmanship. Also check to see if your gift has a symbolic meaning for the locals. In Europe, red roses mean love, which may not be what you are trying to say. Color frequently has meaning. Purple in some Eastern countries is thought to bring bad luck. White, which means death in Europe, signifies good luck in some Arab countries. Because there’s no way you can know all possible significances, ask a local to make sure your gift is appropriate.
7. Always Ask
When in doubt, ask. Buchner-Howard mentioned a meeting she planned in Tenerife, the Canary Islands, that had a lot of technical requirements. When she asked where the AV company was, she found out it was a two-hour airplane ride away in Madrid.
8. Air Transportation
Check the airline carefully. Some local air carriers are not allowed to fly into certain countries because their planes are not up to that country’s safety standards.
Hedge your budget by buying foreign currency on the futures market at the rate prevailing when the meetings are negotiated. Usually the CFO or a bank can help you do this, Buchner-Howard said.
Let your meeting destination know whether or not you want the public to know your event is happening. News of the arrival of a big, deep-pocketed company meeting could attract thieves, she warned. Make sure the public relations people know whether or not they have permission to publicize your event.
Always have your translated into English by a reputable, trusted translator—or preferably, several translators. And be sure the English version is signed, so you know exactly what it is you are agreeing to.
12. Communication (part two)
Have at least one local English-speaking person available to you 24 hours a day. Should an emergency happen, you need to have someone able to make announcements that all your attendees will understand.
Qualifications for hotel ratings vary from country to country. Find out what qualified your six-star hotel to have that six-star rating.
Know that some countries don’t accept American Express or MasterCard. In others, the only payment accepted is cash.